Granite State Jealously Guards First-in-Nation Primaries Status as Democrats Eye Diversity

‘It is important that we have more states involved that bring voices into the process that reflect the diversity and rainbow that is the Democratic Party.’

Ryan Glenn via Wikimedia Commons
Campaign signs at New Hampshire two days before the first-in-the-nation presidential primaries in January 2008. Ryan Glenn via Wikimedia Commons

New Hampshire Democrats are vowing to fight to keep their status as the first-in-the-nation primary — even if it means giving up its residents’ votes in the nomination process. 

“We have fought hard to retain that position,” the state Democratic Party chairman, Raymond Buckley, tells the Sun. “If they decide to take away our delegates, so be it. We’ll survive.” 

The Democratic National Committee says it is considering changes to its primary calendar for the 2024 presidential election in the interest of promoting greater diversity among the early primary contests. The changes could upset the balance of power: Iowa and New Hampshire have for decades been the first states to vote in the presidential nominating process, and thus have been seen as important stomping grounds for candidates.  

The rules and bylaws committee did not take up the proposed changes at the DNC’s recent annual winter meeting in Washington, D.C., as some press reports had predicted. Mr. Buckley said he expects a proposal to reach the full DNC “right around Labor Day.” 

Dismissing any challenge to his state’s status, Mr. Buckley says, “This happens every four years,” though he concedes, “some years get more serious.”

This may be one of them. The disastrous 2020 Iowa caucus — it was plagued by technological errors and took weeks to officially certify the winner — revived an internal DNC debate over whether caucuses are exclusionary to minority voters and those who work nights. 

President Biden didn’t win Iowa or New Hampshire, and he left the latter before voting day to focus on the next, more racially diverse contest: South Carolina. There, Mr. Biden won the black vote by an overwhelming margin and coalesced the party around his candidacy before Super Tuesday. 

“It is important that we have more states involved that bring voices into the process that reflect the diversity and rainbow that is the Democratic Party,” a former spokesman for the Democratic National Committee and member of the DNC rules and bylaws committee, Mo Elleithee, said in a January virtual committee meeting. 

The issue of “diversity and inclusion” dominated the meeting. “It’s very important that our primary calendar reflects those values,” the DNC chairwoman, Donna Brazile, said. 

Iowa and New Hampshire are more than 80 percent white. These largely rural states don’t reflect the Democratic Party’s increasing reliance on minority and urban voters for their base. 

The DNC rules committee proposals floated include consolidating the contests of several early states into a first primary day and seeking new applications from states for the “early window.” In its January meeting, the committee stressed three priorities in selection: diversity, that the states be battlegrounds, and a preference for primaries over caucuses. 

This is “not to penalize any one state,” Mr. Elleithee said.

Iowa meets none of these criteria. New Hampshire meets two. The Granite State is deep purple. 

Mr. Buckley says the New Hampshire Democratic Party is willing to forgo delegates to maintain the state’s position in the calendar, despite the threat of disenfranchising voters. “It’s never been about the delegates,” he says. 

Mr. Buckley referenced the Democratic Party’s 2008 decision to strip delegates from Michigan and Florida of half their votes for moving their primaries to January in violation of DNC rules. He doesn’t expect this to get that far: New Hampshire’s 100-year tradition of going first, which the state codified in 1977, makes change unlikely, according to Mr. Buckley. 

“Any effort to put a primary in front of New Hampshire or on the same date as New Hampshire would meet with an immediate moving of the calendar by the secretary of state,” Mr. Buckley explains, referencing the New Hampshire law that its primary must come at least 7 days before any other “similar election.” 

The New Hampshire GOP is also “committed to protecting New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary,” the NHGOP chairman, Stephen Stepanek, tells the Sun in a written statement. He called on New Hampshire’s Democratic senators and representatives to fight “as hard to preserve our first in the nation primary as we are within the Republican Party.” 

New Hampshire voters take their primary role “extremely seriously,” the co-chairwoman of the Dover Democratic Committee, Nancy Vawter, tells the Sun. While she laments the state’s lack of racial diversity, she points out that the statehouse is led by Republicans and all four congressional representatives are Democrats — evidence, she says, of New Hampshire’s independence and “diverse base” in “the way people view the world.” 

Both parties need independents to win in 2024. New Hampshire’s primary permits unaffiliated voters to cast ballots. 

Ms. Vawter views the state as a bellwether for how independents and the white working class — a demographic she laments the party losing to President Trump — will vote. 

While New Hampshire’s standing appears more secure than Iowa’s, political players are waiting to see what the Democratic National Committee’s rules and bylaws committee ultimately proposes. The co-chairman of the DNC’s rules and bylaws committee, James Roosevelt III, did not return a request for comment. 

If New Hampshire’s status is threatened, expect a drawn-out fight. “We take all challenges seriously,” Mr. Buckley says, but “we organize, we work hard, and we prevail.”

The New York Sun

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